making it work in Mississippi

The Russians have come to Lorman, Mississippi, and that's a very good thing indeed.

It is not easy getting white students to come here, to Alcorn State University, a tiny, historically black campus tucked away in the lush green isolation of southwestern Mississippi, 25 miles from the nearest McDonald's or movie theater.

So when the new coach of the tennis team, Tony Dodgen, recruited a player from Russia back in 1998, no one had any reason to think that he had stumbled upon the way to make Alcorn more inviting to white Mississippians. How could one white face make a difference?

But then the player, Mikhail Frolov, persuaded his girlfriend to join him. The two each brought more of their friends over from Russia. And Mr. Frolov's mother, a high school English teacher, began to tell her students about the university in America that was giving away full scholarships.

Four and a half years later, Alcorn is home to a thriving pod of Russians. Mr. Frolov is a certified public accountant, and no fewer than 23 students from his hometown, Voronezh, are enrolled here as undergraduates studying literature or business, as graduate students in nursing or computer science, as athletes or musicians, and even as unexceptional students with a flair for throwing off-campus parties where everyone is welcome, and where language and race add up to even less of a social barrier than the drinking age.

Now, Alcorn's president, Clinton Bristow, looks at his Russian students and sees hope for the kind of racial diversity that he has long desired for this school, and that the courts have mandated for Mississippi's formerly segregated public colleges and universities. If Alcorn ever achieves such diversity, he says, it will be because white Mississippians decide they can be comfortable here.